The Channel Tunnel, which now hosts the Eurostar rail service, has become a key link between the UK and the rest of Europe. Working from both sides of the sea, French and British constructors used tunnel boring machines to cut their way through the English Channel to construct two tunnels. Tunnelling commenced in 1988, with builders on both sides looking to race to the meeting point halfway. Alastair Morton, Chief Executive of Eurotunnel at the time, spoke of how the French and British builders had different approaches to the task.
He said: “A French engineer is trained to make a plan, they can’t start work unless they can see what there is to be done, see where their task fits into the whole thing and see how it is going to be organised as the whole thing goes along.
“There’s no such thing in the British culture, British culture is to sit down and say, ‘What have we got to do now chaps?’, and sort out whose got to do what and set to work.”
The differences between British and French workers didn’t prevent the Channel Tunnel from being built with little issue.
On December 1 1990, the tunnel was finally completed, and workers from around the globe celebrated together deep beneath the English Channel.
The Eurostar service started nine years later in 1999.
In 2015, the UK eventually sold off its stake in the company for over £750million, leaving it in the majority ownership of the French state railway company SNCF.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant that recent stories surrounding Eurostar have been a lot less positive.
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France’s junior transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, has tried to engage with the Government to reach a deal on a bailout package.
But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps warned that the company is “not ours to rescue.”
Eurostar is now in emergency talks with lenders to avoid a financial collapse this summer, when a £400m debt pile is due for repayment with the continent still in grip of coronavirus.
The channel tunnel operator is this weekend in advanced discussions with a group of banks, including UK taxpayer-backed NatWest, to secure lifeline funding.
Insiders said the company’s attention had turned to restructuring its loans, following weeks of lobbying ministers on both sides of the Channel for a bailout that is yet to yield a deal.